Mariusz Starzec has been waiting 10 years for what President Barack Obama is expected to accomplish in a matter of weeks -- an executive order that would, in part, allow undocumented workers with children who are American citizens to secure work permits.
Starzec, 43, and his wife, Ewa, came to the country legally on a tourist visa in late 2002. They planned to work, but not necessarily to stay permanently.
That changed when their daughter Zuzanna was born six years ago with congenital nephritic syndrome and severe epilepsy. Friends who worked as physicians and nurses back home told them to stay in America to get the best medical care, and they listened.
Now, the Starzecs are waiting for Obama to act. The proposed executive action, expected to happen before the end of the year, could allow some 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, and issue them work permits. In years past, the president said a sweeping reform would be undemocratic, and members of the newly-controlled Republican Congress are opposed to the amnesty plan.
Despite their status, caring for Zuzanna is Starzec’s top priority. When she was three and a half, Starzec donated a kidney to her. A month later, Starzec a trained civil engineer, found a job as a part-time super at a Bensonhurst apartment building, which lets the family live rent free, and doesn’t require him to have a social security number to work.
Starzec says he pays his taxes every year, but even that “is not enough,” to let him stay in the U.S. legally, he says in the family’s light-filled apartment in Bensonhurst. With little spare cash, the home is furnished chairs and artwork found on city streets.
The New York Legal Assistance Group, which has been helping Starzec obtain the right to stay in the U.S., says the family could qualify because they are parents of American citizens, and have been living in the country for more than 10 years. They may also qualify because of Zuzanna’s health problems.
“For us, it would be a huge change,” Starzec said. “I was educated in Poland, and pretty well. So I’m capable of doing much more things … I know there is always the question that you’re going to take jobs from somebody, but maybe not.”
If the executive action is passed, Starzec is most looking forward to getting a driver’s license, and buying a minivan, so he can drive his daughter to her frequent doctor and hospital visits. Right now, he depends on a car service to take them to New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, using pillows to stabilize Zuzanna for the ride, to lower her chance of having a seizure.
He dreams of being able to work for home for a computer company, and put his master’s degree in civil engineering to work. He also thinks having his own insurance would take pressure off of taxpayers, since his daughter’s care is funded by Medicaid.
And while life for the Starzecs is more often than not difficult, Mauriuz Starzec’s face lights up when he talks about his three children. He has another daughter, Zofia, 17 months, and a baby boy, William, born last week.
“We still have hope,” Starzec said. “She’s still growing, and we see her changing, some for the better.”
(Originally published November 19, 2014; updated January 29, 2017)